I recently designed and delivered some Excel training for auditors. Specifically, it was Excel training for audit trainees who had just started at the firm.
I benefitted enormously at the start of my career when my employer arranged for all new audit trainees to have Excel training as part of our induction. Even though it was pretty basic, it established a good grounding in things like formula construction, absolute and relative cell references, and a few shortcuts.
On the face of it, processing timesheets with Power Query ought to be fairly straightforward. By “processing timesheets” I am primarily thinking about records of hours worked that feed into payroll or job costing calculations.
This post sets out the five most useful new Excel functions for finance teams, based on my experience. By “new” I mean available in 2019 or later versions of Excel (including Office 365).
Many of us are self-taught in Excel, and it can be hard to keep up with the changes. In the past few years there have been loads of new Excel functions that replace and add to existing ones that you might be familiar with.
Here are the five most useful power query functions for accountants, in my personal opinion:
Data from Folder
It is, of course, impossible to pick just five. However, the point of this post is to illustrate that the power query functions I use the most are actually the simple ones. They are still enormous timesavers. Let’s have a look.
Power Query has been out for over a decade and yet the majority of accountants I meet still seem unaware of what it can do for them.
A possible issue is that it is usually presented in the context of Power BI, and analysing Big Data. And the type of people who like to talk about that also like to talk about other scary things such as VBA and SQL. There aren’t many training resources or articles focussing on Power Query for accountants more generally.
I recently set up a management accounts model using Power Query to combine multiple forecasts.
This is for a startup charity, where we need the ability to forecast at a high level over a five year period but to be able to update that quickly based on current decisions. We also need to do a detailed six monthly forecast for cash flow purposes. We also want to approve changes on a quarterly basis. Finally, we want to be able to assess the quality of our forecasting so that we can continue to improve it.
“Well, you know, it is month end”, I say, and colleagues nod sympathetically and steer clear for a while. For most non-finance types, it’s a mysterious process that seems to cause a lot of stress. For finance types, it is a beast to be tamed.
By “month end” or “month end close”, I’m referring to the process by which a month (or other period) is brought to an end in the financial system. This means trying to get the numbers as accurate as possible for some sort of eventual output. This could be management accounts, a report for a funder, a VAT return or just the sense of achievement and closure.
It means making sure you have accounted for all the expenditure and income for that month. Depending on the organisation you may also carry out certain “month end” tasks such as calculating depreciation, reconciling the bank and other balance sheet accounts.
In this post I set out a few things to consider which might make a month end less stressful.
Power Query gives you many more tools beyond standard Excel for automating management accounts. This post sets out some points to consider. It is not intended as a step-by-step guide, because one size does not fit all, and the path you take will vary depending on what you want to report and your source data.
However, the key message is that Power Query makes complex and lengthy transformations really easy, and completely repeatable. Whatever you want to do, you can do it better with Power Query.